UK can halve its energy demand by 2050

New research shows that the UK can dramatically reduce its energy demand to meet net zero emissions targets by 2050 without negatively impacting quality of life.

Current emissions pledges by developed countries continue to fall short of the 1.5 °C Paris Agreement target. Research published in the journal Natural Energy shows that a stronger focus on energy demand reduction in national mitigation plans would reduce this shortfall. 

This research by the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS) provides a framework to understand how much energy demand reduction developed countries can achieve at a national level.

The findings shows that it will be difficult and expensive to meets net zero targets without developed countries taking serious measures to reduce demand for energy and that significant reductions are not only achievable but completely feasible for modern life. 

Energy demand reduction can reduce reliance on high-risk carbon dioxide removal technologies, has moderate investment requirements and allows space for ratcheting up climate ambition.

This world-first framework can be applied by other developed countries to explore their own energy demand reduction.

The CREDS report included researchers from the University of Leeds, University of Oxford and University College London. It was led by Professor John Barrett from the universities of Leeds and Oxford.  

Professor Barrett is part of the Sustainability Research Institute at Leeds and was recently awarded an OBE for services to climate change assessment. He said: “Reducing energy demand alongside the transformation of the energy system is the only viable pathway to achieve ambitious global climate targets. This was shown clearly in the latest IPCC report at the global level. 

“Our paper has calculated how a developed country, the UK, can rapidly reduce its energy demand without compromising the quality of life of citizens. It is important to recognise that both technological and broader societal changes are required to halve the UK’s energy demand.

“The UK Government has yet to define how energy demand will contribute to achieving our climate ambitions and it is imperative that they outline a detailed strategy with supporting policies very soon. 

“The CREDS framework also provides other developed countries with a method to use to explore their own national energy demand reduction approach.”

CREDS has developed a short animation to accompany the Nature Energy article which outlines the findings. 

Researchers devised four scenarios – ignore, steer, shift and transform demand – plausible futures based on social and technological changes. These are not predictions of the future, but they demonstrate what can be achieved with particular packages of policy, social trends and technological developments. 

The research from CREDS outlines a vision of achievable positive low energy futures and makes clear recommendations for how to ensure energy demand reduction becomes a key contributor in achieving net zero emissions by 2050.

Further information:

Top image: Adobe photostock

The Nature Energy article ‘Energy demand reduction options for meeting national zero-emission targets in the United Kingdom’ was published 27 June 2022. (DOI: 10.1038/s41560-022-01057-y) 

CREDS Positive Low Energy Futures report, launched in October 2021, offers the background research on which the Nature Energy paper is based.

The Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS) was established as part of the UK Research and Innovation’s Energy Programme in April 2018, with funding of £19.5M over five years. Its mission is to make the UK a leader in understanding the changes in energy demand needed for the transition to a secure and affordable, net zero society.

For more information on CREDS contact Hannah Harris

For more information on the University of Leeds contact Anna Harrison